During the passage of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Act in the House of Lords, the Government committed to laying a written ministerial statement every six months setting out which of our commitments in New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) we have delivered on to date. The first of these statements was published on 23 March 2022. This is the second statement.
The NDNA agreement facilitated the restoration of the devolved institutions in January 2020 after three years of hiatus. The Government remains deeply disappointed at the continued lack of a fully functioning Executive following the resignation of the First Minister in February and the Assembly election in May, and urges the parties to come together and form a government in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.
The Government has taken action to support the people of Northern Ireland, for instance through the Energy Price Guarantee and the £400 Energy Bill Support Scheme payment which will help consumers with their energy costs, as well as the Energy Bill Relief Scheme for businesses, the public sector and charity organisations.
However, the people of Northern Ireland deserve a stable and accountable government that can act directly on their behalf through the challenging times ahead. The Government’s priority is to facilitate the restoration of the Executive as soon as possible, but if an Executive is not formed by 28 October, Ministers in Northern Ireland will lose office and I will come under a legal duty to call fresh elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. In law, this must take place within twelve weeks. This action will not be taken lightly, but time is running out for the parties to come together, form an Executive and avoid this outcome.
In the meantime, the Government will continue to implement its commitments and deliver for people in Northern Ireland. To that end, since January 2020 the Government has:
- published four reports on the use of the Petition of Concern mechanism, with the most recent report published on 20 January 2022;
- passed the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Act to implement the institutional reforms agreed in NDNA;
- passed the Internal Market Act 2020;
- held a meeting of the Board of Trade in Northern Ireland;
- ensured that Northern Ireland can access the trade deals the UK is striking across the world;
- invited representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive to all meetings of the UK-EU Joint and Specialised Committees;
- changed the rules governing how the people of Northern Ireland bring their family members to the UK, enabling them to apply for immigration status on broadly the same terms as family members of Irish citizens;
- appointed Danny Kinahan as the first Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioner in September 2020;
- passed the Armed Forces Act, which further enshrines the Armed Forces Covenant in law;
- conducted a thorough review of the Aftercare Service, the purpose of which was to consider whether the remit of the service should be widened to cover all HM Forces veterans living in Northern Ireland with service-related injuries and conditions;
- marked Northern Ireland’s Centenary in 2021 with a £3 million programme of cultural and historical events, including the delivery of the Shared History Fund and schools planting project;
- brought forward regulations that continue to ensure designated Union Flag flying days remain in line with those observed in the rest of the UK;
- recognised Ulster Scots as a National Minority under the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities;
- announced £2 million in funding for NI Screen’s Irish Language and Ulster Scots Broadcast funds, which support a range of film, television and radio programming;
- established a new hub - Erskine House - in the heart of Belfast, increasing the visibility and accessibility of UK Government departments in Northern Ireland;
- reviewed the findings of the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry Report to consider its implications for the use of public money in Northern Ireland; and
- continued to foster closer ties and better collaborative working across sectors such as tourism, sport and culture, including through the potential joint UK and Ireland bid to host the 2028 European Championships.
The Government has provided a total financial package of £2 billion for New Decade, New Approach. This financial package includes a £1 billion Barnett-based investment guarantee for infrastructure investment and £1 billion in funding across key priorities as set out in the deal. Of the £1 billion in funding, over £750 million has been allocated towards such outcomes as:
- bringing an end to the nurses’ pay dispute in January 2020;
- putting the Northern Ireland Executive’s finances on a sustainable footing by securing additional funding for the Executive in the 2020/21 financial year;
- the creation of a new Northern Ireland Graduate Entry Medical School in Londonderry;
- supporting the transformation of public services;
- supporting low carbon transport in Northern Ireland, enabling the Department for Infrastructure to commit to ordering 100 low-carbon buses to be deployed in Belfast and Londonderry; and
- addressing Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances through projects and programmes that tackle paramilitarism, promote greater integration in education, support economic prosperity, and support the Irish language and Ulster-Scots.
In addition, in the absence of Executive progress on the matter, the Government has continued to progress the New Decade, New Approach commitments relating to identity and language through the Identity and Language (NI) Bill. This will encourage and promote respect and tolerance for all of Northern Ireland’s diverse identities, cultures and traditions. The Identity and Language Bill, as amended, provides for:
- the creation of a series of National and Cultural Identity principles, and an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression to oversee them;
- the creation of an Irish Language Commissioner;
- the creation of a Commissioner for the Ulster Scots and the Ulster British tradition;
- a duty on the Northern Ireland Department of Education to encourage and facilitate the use and understanding of Ulster Scots;
- the repeal of the Administration of Justice (Ireland) Act 1737; and
- the establishment of a Castlereagh Foundation.
All provisions in the Bill will be a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive to administer, support and fund.